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6 steps to menu labeling compliance

Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, is a contributor to NRN and president and founder of Healthy Dining and HealthyDiningFinder.com. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

Menu labeling legislation is looming, and restaurants nationwide with 20 or more units are working to comply by the May 5, 2017, deadline.  

While some restaurants are finalizing procedures and celebrating compliance ahead of schedule, many are now starting on the lengthy process. The question is: What is the most efficient way to get it done?

“It almost always takes more time than you expect to make sure everything is accurate and ready to incorporate onto menus and menu boards,” said Mary Parsons, MS, RD, culinary dietitian at Healthy Dining. “There is time needed to make sure the recipes are accurate, to gather product labels from suppliers, and for quality assurance and verification. To avoid being held up by unexpected roadblocks, it’s safest for restaurants to start nutrition analysis projects several months in advance of the date that you plan to print.”

With less than a year now before compliance is mandated, Healthy Dining’s team recommends that restaurants break the process down into six steps to make the countdown to compliance a strategic process that won’t sacrifice accuracy or customer trust.

Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH

1.    Complete or verify menu nutrition analysis.
•    If you’re starting from scratch, work with a restaurant nutrition expert to analyze your recipes. The first step in menu analysis will be finalizing your standardized recipes, and then completing nutrition analysis of all standard menu items. 
•    If you already have nutrition information for standard menu items, now is the time to confirm the accuracy of the existing analysis. Recipes, ingredients and even suppliers change frequently, affecting the accuracy of your restaurant’s nutrition information. Customers and inspectors will both expect accurate and complete information readily available by the May 5, 2017, compliance deadline.

2.    Re-design menus and menu boards.
Once you have accurate and complete nutrition information for your standard menu items, determine how best to incorporate the required calorie information and statements into your menus and menu boards. From your basic offerings, to variable menu items and beverages, menu labeling regulations are very specific in how calorie information must be posted. Review the FDA rules for presenting this information and/or work with a vendor well versed in the requirements to help ensure accuracy and compliance.

3.    Determine how to present additional required information.
Calorie counts on the menu are just one part of the compliance puzzle. Whether it’s a binder, brochure or iPad, presenting the additional required nutrition information will look different for each restaurant. Take a close look at your processes and procedures to determine the best long-term solution for maintaining accurate information. If print is the best route for your brand, design presentation materials. If technology is the best route, begin researching solutions.

4.    Print new menus and materials.
Menus, menu boards, brochures, binders and similar materials will need to be printed with calories, required statements and additional nutrients.

5.    Distribute new materials to locations.
Once printing is complete, make sure that each location has the most current and accurate materials on site. This may include menus and menu boards with calories and required statements, brochures with additional information, and signed statements. If you do not already have a process in place, determine how to maintain accurate materials required for menu labeling compliance at all locations moving forward. 

6.    Train staff.
Determining a plan for training location-level management, back of house and front of house, on the basics of the regulations and staff roles in compliance is essential to maintaining compliance. Whether you create an internal training program or rely on a third-party training program, ensure that every member of your staff understands his or her role in maintaining and providing accurate nutrition information.

The menu labeling clock is ticking, and restaurants nationwide are moving to comply. If you are just beginning on the process, don’t wait. Start moving forward now to meet the May 5, 2017, menu labeling compliance deadline.

Sara Lucero contributed to this article. 

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